Yes, there are those who frown upon Shakespeare in the park. There are mosquitoes, after all, and unreliable weather, and, you know, it's free, so how good can it be, right? Well, actually, pretty damn good, and Seattle has any number of companies out to prove it in various Puget Sound parks. It sounds corny to find deep meaning in a grassy encounter with classic theater, but it's true: An outdoor setting on a mild day has a liberating sense of the eternal—looking around at the masses gathered on a lawn to hear language written centuries ago, you can't help but feel a part of something stirringly democratic. You've got months and months to be indoors at the multiplex, so pack some food, a sweater, a chair (the blanket idea grows uncomfortable real fast), and maybe an umbrella (cross your fingers), then use our comprehensive guide to grasp just what goes into a rousing rain-or-shine show.
Summer Guide 2005
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• Author Readings. MORE
• Movies. MORE
• The Bard Is Back. MORE
• Concerts. MORE
Wooden O Theatre
Thurs., July 7–Wed., Aug. 3; 206-931-3516 or www.woodeno.org
It's the 12th year of park performances for the company that actor and artistic director George Mount founded, with a budget cobbled together from grants, program ads, corporate sponsorships, and a tremendous number of individual donors so pleased with the work that they either contribute generously when the proverbial hat is passed or make a point of writing the group a grateful check later. ("That's 30 percent of the budget," insists managing director Vanessa Miller, who's Lady Macbeth in this year's staging. "So that's why if it rains, we're in trouble.")
"At least a third of our production expenses go toward people," says Mount. "Quality actors, quality designers. Just because [a show] is free, it doesn't have to be cheap."
Mount's stylish, supercharged take on Julius Caesar in the summer of 2004 was proof he means what he says.
"We try to look thematically at what the shows have to offer, or at contrasts," Mount says, explaining Wooden O's season. "[This year we've got] Shakespeare's murkiest tragedy with a show on the bubblier end of his comedies."
Sheila Daniels, who recently staged a powerful Waiting for Lefty at Capitol Hill Arts Center, directs the notorious "Scottish play"—and Scottish it will be.
"I really wanted kilts," she says. "We asked [local Scottish menswear retailer] Utilikilts for a sponsorship, and they gave it to us. I wanted the costumes to be very primitive, but there are modern touches."
Daniels is also excited about the violence: "Not a lot of blood, but it will be very simple and brutal."
She might not get everything she wants, though.
"We've been trying to find a bagpiper," she sighs. "But I just don't know if that's going to happen."
"I love Twelfth Night because it really lends itself to [any setting]," says director Susanna Wilson. "Illyria is essentially a made-up place. It brings up the words 'illusion' and 'delirium.'"
She's taken those cues and plopped the comedy—Countess Olivia, cross-dressing Viola, and all—into an amalgamated world with the flavor of the Middle East: singer Ofra Haza, belly dancing, Eygptian fezzes, et al.
"I'm basically stealing all the different elements of the areas I like," she says. "This whole thing started with the veil that Olivia wears. The symbolism of the veil itself is so useful for this play and that character."
Fri., July 15–Sun., Aug. 28; 206-748-1551 or www.greenstage.org
"We generally try to keep it a low-tech approach, using the natural beauty of the park setting," says board member Peter Burford by way of addressing how to handle a budget that's about one-seventh the size of Wooden O's means. "It's a little closer to how the Shakespeare shows were originally produced."
Greenstage has been on its feet in the outdoors for over 15 years and has produced more than half the works in Shakespeare's canon, making it Seattle's longest-running such company. While slowly working its way through the history plays, the company's no-frills approach lends itself to the timeless sweetness of Shakespeare's romances. All's Well That Ends Well, one of last summer's offerings, seemed bolstered by its easygoing reliance on the resources at hand; the show relaxed you into its simple satisfactions.
Greenstage's latest history play is helmed by Linda Lombardi, who doesn't intend to mess around.
"I prefer to let the text speak for itself," she says. "I've never been one to understand why you would throw a concept onto something like Henry V. It's like trying to improve on perfection."
She can't, of course, capture all of its epic qualities, though she does have 15 actors playing around 35 different characters.
"I have to cut a bit to keep it down to two hours," she admits. "I'm trying to avoid set altogether, [and] since a lot of it happens on battlefields, it wasn't necessary to bring in thrones or places for people to sit down. I want to keep it moving and keep it lively."
Director Cara Anderson is thrilled to get her hands on the Bard's dark, enchanting island escape.
"This is an idea that I've been working on for five years," she says. "[The show] is going to be in the Mediterranean, but Caliban and Ariel are going to be African. This comes from a statement in the play that says that Caliban's mother is from Algeria, which gives the island an African flavor as well."
The production will feature African drumming, costumes, and dancing, and will highlight the import of Caliban's heritage in a novel way.
"It's actually Caliban's native religion that allows Prospero to put his magic into practice," says Anderson. "Miranda and Prospero are a bridge between two different worlds."
Fri., July 8–Sat., Aug. 6; 206-324-5801 or www.schmeater.org
Schmeater is a popular Capitol Hill venue year-round, and Weekly readers named the space Seattle's Best Fringe Theater in 1998 and '99, then again in 2002 and '03. The company offers one outdoor production each year, usually something lighthearted—spending essentially the couple-thousand dollars required to produce a regular show less set, sound, lights, and any higher message.
"I choose [the summer show] based on what I think families and kids are going to like," says artistic director Rob West. "I avoid Shakespeare at all costs, since there's enough of that."
The Three Musketeers
"I wanted something a little more active this year," West says.
Alexandre Dumas' classic swashbuckler, directed by Beth Peterson, was exactly what he was looking for.
"I wanted an action film in the park," he laughs, "I [told] Beth, 'I want an hour of fighting, and a half-hour of dialogue.'"
Troupe du Jour
Opens Fri., June 3; www.troupedujour.org
It's only been around for a year, and board Vice President Chryste Call says the company's park offering is the result of a Society for Creative Anachronists booking: "It's being performed at some SCA event, and, honestly, we just wanted to give the ensemble more opportunities to perform it."
An empty stage is all that's needed for this show, written by a Troupe du Jour member, about a young woman's desire to act—and the gender-bending required to do so in Elizabethan England.